That said, I don’t recommend going to publication, particularly if your book is intended as a revenue-generating venture or as a vehicle of professional promotion, without making sure that someone with an eye for detail has gone through the entire manuscript and ruthlessly noted every typo, every spelling error, every misplaced comma, and every ambiguous sentence.
Copy editors catch spelling mistakes, errors in grammar, and inconsistencies in your text. They know when compound words are hyphenated (or not), whether the book is ‘laying’ or ‘lying’ on the table, and whether eagles have ‘talons’ or ‘claws.’ They’ll go through your manuscript line by line for accuracy and consistency of style. A good copy editor will make sure that your voice remains intact while restructuring sentences, and substituting weak word choices for stronger ones.
The Vietnam war is on and our protagonist (me) joins the Navy to avoid being drafted. Ordered overseas, he loses his respect for the cultural norms of his parents’ generation regarding sex, marriage, and the war. Tom is on a great adventure. He also loses his virginity at the age of 19 while stationed in Korea. The narrative is full of shocking revelations about the conduct of that war along with sweet and very personal vignettes concerning Tom’s personal life (nothing salacious, no titillating descriptions of the passionate and torrid sex which occurred). Stories and pictures relating to women in three countries who competed for Tom’s affection. The epilogue reveals that Tom is still married to the woman that won him 41 years ago. They have four grandchildren today. Tom (me) has a positive outlook throughout, enjoys all the challenges and relationships, and is still convinced he has achieved his life’s goal of being a dependable husband, father and grandfather.
Technology may have changed the way books are produced and distributed, but ultimately the connection between reader and writer is one of the most enduringly personal in history. You need to pay close attention to an editor’s manner and decide if the relationship is likely to be pleasant, professional, and productive. Is the editor overly curt or slow to respond to your emails? If the comments in the sample edit are too harsh, how will you make it through hundreds of pages of red-inked barbs? Beyond the financial expense, editing can be an intensely emotional journey; make sure that your editor will be a good travel companion.
Every author must decide what is important to him or her in an editor, but in these days of electronic communication, honestly I do not think it is important to seek a local editor unless your book is specifically related to something of local interest. Even in that case, you may benefit from the perspective of someone who does not have all the local knowledge it can be easy to presume, so that you can prepare your book for a wider audience.
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Start at the top of the copyright page and work your way down. Copyright pages can be formatted differently, but they usually start with the publisher, date, and location of publication. Slowly scan each line to look for an editor’s line listing. The editor (or group of editors) are usually listed in the middle, underneath the publisher’s information, but above the country and printing number.
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Amazing post, Dave, and definitely an important topic. My first book I used one of the larger “editorial agencies” you mentioned. The quality wasn’t bad but there was no direct contact with the editor. Just ship it to them and they ship it back. I’ve tried out several editors now and found a very good one who did a great job on my list book. Once you find a good editor, stick with him/her and build a relationship if you can. Thanks for the list provided and this editors test is a great addition.
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I like the idea of embedding “fine print” into the initial email. I also think it’s a good idea for an author to check references; the questions Val suggested are great. Third, as another commenter said, an editor can give the author a general assessment of their book, which will help the author decide if that particular editor will be a good fit or not.
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Stephen, I’m not sure what you mean by “time wasted matching a style guide.” Any professional editor of trade books knows the Chicago Manual of Style well and as a matter of course automatically makes changes that are in line with it. What you said is akin to “They waste time correcting spelling errors.” They’re not wasting any time; they’re doing their job and it’s a basic and automatic part of that job.
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When you’ve found someone who seems like a decent candidate so far, make first contact. (The contact form on the website is fine as a first step.) Introduce yourself and state what you are looking for (a developmental critique, copyediting, etc.). Give a very brief description of your project, including its genre and approximate length. Give an idea of your planned next step and any deadlines (even if only approximate ones). For example, have you already signed a contract with a subsidy press for publication next fall? Are you planning to submit the manuscript to publishers and/or literary agents after editing?
“Build my house, but don’t waste time making sure anything you do is done in the normal way things are automatically done (up to code). I don’t need any of that.” Doing things the way they are automatically done does not cost more, and it doesn’t take more time. On the contrary, trying to do it in some other fashion—making up a new way to do it—would take more time. Furthermore, the results would probably be a disaster.
Your last point is actually raising my eyebrow in the sense that no one ever wants to make a newbies his/her editor.But the newbies can actually have some creative editing style which the experienced one still havent gotten..A case study is the people who work in the government house or secretariat, the same way in which they draft a letter in the 90’s is still the same way they are still giving it now.But giving newbies a chance to explore their creativity can bring about great and effectual changes..
If you know you are sensitive to changes, or that you only want edits that correct what’s wrong (and not subjective edits beyond that), tell the editor so. This kind of information is invaluable, and will prevent frustrations and misunderstandings. That said, don’t suggest this if you’re open to your work being better. Editors will bring your work to a whole other level if you’re able to loosen your grip on any notion that your creative expression is under attack when an editor makes changes to your work. The most successful authors are edited multiple times over.
Look at the front and back of the next page for acknowledgements. If an author worked closely with an editor throughout the writing process, they may choose to include their name in the acknowledgements page. The acknowledgements page is usually a few lines of text centered on a blank page after the copyright information. Read it to see if the editor is mentioned.
You might hire someone for a proofread, but let the editor know that you’re open to hearing from him or her if the work needs a heavier edit. The editor would need to present you with evidence in the form of sample pages that showcase what’s needed—and your job is to make sure you agree. You want to feel like an editor’s edits are polishing your work and making it shine. If you feel dread or anger, or even if you feel misunderstood, it’s likely not a good fit. At the very least you want to share your reactions with the editor so they can respond or change course.
2. Copyeditors aren’t the last line of defense when it comes to a book’s mistakes. Formatting, which is done after an editor has done their job, can lead to unintended errors being introduced into the text. That’s why it’s important to hire proofreaders to comb through edited text *after* the book has been formatted for print or digital. Proofreaders are your last line of defense—but they’re human too.